South Africa


Welcome to the tumble drier, Mr Mantashe, it’s long overdue

Welcome to the tumble drier, Mr Mantashe, it’s long overdue
Illustrative image | Sources: Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan) | Eskom Logo.Photo:Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

While there are no early solutions in sight to our intensely painful rolling blackouts, it appears there is a major political dispute taking place both within government and within the ANC. It is also becoming clear that Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is coming under serious pressure, even though he is not yet in control of Eskom.

It appears the only response Gwede Mantashe has to the pressure he is experiencing is to try to distract from the real problem, which is the technical issue that Eskom is not able to provide enough electricity, and government policy’s failure to allow the private sector to make up the shortfall in time. This political dispute is likely to get even more heated, and no amount of the ANC Chair’s spinning will be able to tamp it down.

On Saturday, News24 quoted Mantashe telling delegates at the Free State ANC’s conference: 

“…within the ANC there is a new debate that says energy and mining must be split. They will split energy from my department [of mineral resources and energy] then say they are taking Eskom to energy in terms of the resolution from the conference of the ANC”.

This appeared to be bolstered by reporting in City Press that those close to President Cyril Ramaphosa were planning to move him away from Energy, with one source quoted as saying his reign at the department has been “disastrous”.

Coming so soon after the ANC’s conference decision that SOEs be moved to their line departments (and thus Eskom would move to Energy) this is the first sign that Mantashe may not get control over Eskom at all.

This is likely to disappoint him.

Despite not having political authority over Eskom, Mantashe has made many comments about Eskom and rolling blackouts in the past. These included his famous quote that Stage 6 was “akin to agitating for the overthrow of the state” and appears to have “inspired” the resignation of Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.

And yet, while he has made those attacks on Eskom, he has also conveniently used the fact that he does not have direct control over Eskom to turn down interview requests. At the same time, in other interviews he has granted he has continued to lambast the beleaguered giant.

Professor Anton Eberhard has said that Mantashe told him directly he would blame current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan when rolling blackouts happened, which points to a lack of care about… well, anything other than his own personal interests.

Up until now, it appears Mantashe has had the luxury of deciding who should be blamed for rolling blackouts, and when. Despite that, over the last few weeks, it appears that for the middle classes and the commentariat, he is already being directly blamed, as ordinary people have become wearingly familiar with the technicalities of energy policy.

People around the country will now also be familiar with solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses, the most simple demonstration that renewable energy can work really well.

If Mantashe does now take over Energy and Eskom, there will simply be nowhere for him to hide, and the sense that it was he who is responsible for our plight will continue to grow.

There are also clear signs that Mantashe does not have the answers to the problem of rolling blackouts, and when confronted on it, he attempts to distract from the issue.

For example, he has consistently claimed that he is the victim of an attack by “liberals” over energy policy. On Saturday, he was quoted as saying the person who his opponents wanted to take over from him at Energy would be a “greenie” who would be pro-renewable energy.

The word “liberal” can mean different things in different places. In the US it can be used by those on the Right as a way of describing those on the Left. But in our politics, it is normally used by those who believe themselves to be on the Left to describe those who they believe are on the Right. (Confusing, right?)

Here, it is not entirely clear why Mantashe has chosen this phrase, or used it so consistently in recent days. That said, there is certainly an element of trying to brand those attacking him, to ascribe a political motive or ideology to their view.

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In the meantime, it appears the only possible solution Mantashe mentions for our power problems is in fact a contract with Karpowerships.

But there are many issues around this proposed policy choice.

In an interview with News24 he says that when it comes to the possibility of using that company to provide power it may be expensive, but that it is much more expensive to continue with rolling blackouts, considering the damage it does to our economy.

However, this misses the point that the contract with Karpowerships would be for 20 years, as has been pointed out many times. It would lead to a situation where after all of that money had been spent, there would be no infrastructure to show for it; the ships would simply pack up and leave.

Read on Daily Maverick: More late changes to gas explosion and noise studies as Karpowership enters final lap

In the meantime, as those who favour renewables argue, it would be much cheaper to simply add a lot more of that capacity to the grid, in particular because some of it can be built within just two years.

Mantashe’s admission that some in the ANC want to prevent him from taking over Eskom is an indicator of the pressure he is experiencing. While Mantashe is famous for getting his way over policy and politics, and beating opponents, this may be too big a fight, even for someone as pugnacious as he.

Part of it may be because Pravin Gordhan, who currently has responsibility for Eskom, is a political fighter of impressive dexterity himself. His track record as Finance Minister during the Zuma era is testimony to that. But rather than fight in public, Gordhan tends to operate behind the scenes.

While it may look like a straight fight around personalities, the real issue must surely be the direction of electricity policy, and South Africa: whether we will continue our coal dependence or will move more quickly to renewables.

Mantashe has created the strong perception that he is in favour of coal, despite what appear to be clear ANC decisions about the importance of mitigating climate change. This may weaken him in the debates around whether he should be allowed to take over Eskom.

The desperation around this issue could force Ramaphosa to finally take some public action. As he is due to announce a reshuffle soon, retaining Mantashe in the Energy portfolio will lead to a backlash, against Ramaphosa personally and the ANC in general, at a time when the party can ill afford to lose any votes ahead of next year’s elections.

That said, it is not clear from the group of people available to Ramaphosa who could take over the position and make a big difference. The problem of rolling blackouts is so massive and difficult that there are no quick and easy solutions. As Ramaphosa can only pick people who are currently Members of Parliament (although the Constitution does allow him to select two members of Cabinet who are not MPs), his hands are restricted if not fully tied.

It should also be remembered that Mantashe, and the ANC, are not the only people in our society with no hard and fast solutions to rolling blackouts, and who attempt to distract from the real, hard, technical issues.

The DA has launched an “urgent” court application to overturn Nersa’s decision to increase power prices by 18% this year and 12% next year.

While this may win some headlines, the prospects of success are small. It is clear that Eskom needs the money and the increase decision is likely to be judged as legally rational.

Meanwhile, the organisation #NotInMyName held a protest against that same increase in Tshwane last week. While this may win it support, this group has its own track record.

It has received money from the National Lottery Commission, and was part of a group of organisations that demonstrated their support for the former board of the NLC. This is the board implicated in a massive scandal that saw millions, perhaps more, being stolen.

This comes amid a backdrop of claims that there should be a “national day of action” against rolling blackouts. But this, again, underscores the fact that political action does not result in changes to the laws of physics.

Rather, the problems of rolling blackouts are all technical. They are about power generation, economics, financing and the difficulties of distribution.

The solutions to our problems can be only technical in nature. They also require people who understand them, and make the correct technical decisions to implement them. Certainly not the politicians. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    GM does not have a modest tumble drier in mind – he has his eyes on a full scale money laundry for his wife’s gas ships and his friends’ business interests.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Can he turn it on?

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Well, if I am not mistaken, the only thing that has prevented Minerals and Energy from being split away from each other is the fact that coal is a mineral and is our main source of energy. Once the renewables take over, there is no reason to keep them together. In fact, I believe that the Energy department should be given to the Minister of the Environment, because that is where the future lies. And then the miner Mantashe can keep supporting coal and mining while at the same time SA supports, and implements, clean energy. It is going to be interesting to see what Ramaphosa does with the much-discussed cabinet reshuffle. We also have to keep in mind that it is not just Ramaphosa who needs Mantashe; Mantashe evidently needs Ramaphosa or else he would not have done so much to convince Ramaphosa to stay on as head of state. So I don’t think Ramaphosa is really so dependent on Mantashe; but I also think that Mantashe is playing a significant role in preparing the coal mine community to accept the changes that the renewables will bring onto them.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Another really good point – transferring Energy portfolio to the Minister of the Environment is a brilliant idea! Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak!

  • Stephen Mullins says:

    The problem is that any solution adopted by the ANC (to anything at all) is without doubt directed at enriching themselves first and solving the problem only a distant second, or more likely a third or fourth. Eskom’s death spiral merely prompts a greater feeding frenzy.

  • Eyes Wide Shut says:

    So now they’ve gotten rid of the white scapegoat. But in doing so the Eye of Saron has swung fully towards government and its cronies. Good! Now it’s political. Now they have to deliver within 6 months…. or is it 12 months…. or 18 months….. or a guaranteed further two uears of rolling blackouts? So far De Ruyter’s departure has made no difference. I think the National Energy Crisis Committee of Ministers has bitten off more than it can chew. They’re out of their depth because they’re not even sure how a power station operates. Never mind fix it. And who on God’s earth is going to be stupid enough to take on the roll of Eskom CEO after the way Andre de Ruyter was treated by government and the so-called and self-proclaimed “energy experts”.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Problems created by ANC lack of decent policies on Eskom. Excessive costs created mainly by ANC looting running up the massive debt Eskom faces and also because of ANC currying favour and votes by employing too many staff of Eskom. And who does the ANC expect to bail them out of their mess – no other than the taxpayer of course

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    How can the solution be purely technical when there is a policy vacuum? While Ramaphosa prevaricates about which fiefdom deserves the golden goose, the country and it’s economy is disappearing down the drain. Soon, power won’t even matter as we start fighting each other for food and water. Tussen die lepel en die mond val die pap op die grond…

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Over & above the energy disaster, its root causes & the economic devastation, both Mantashe & Gordhan are dyed in the wool communist dinosaurs who cling to outdated, failed 1930s Marxist economic dogma. It’s 2023 FFS, there’s no place in any economy for these policies.

    Unless & until they’re both put out to pasture permanently & someone competent with no nefarious or personal agendas takes over, the slide into total darkness will continue unabated.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Surely the first step in resolving the ESKOM dilemma is to appoint a tech savvy minister and ban any political comment or interference un the internal management of the SOE?

    • Eyes Wide Shut says:

      Andre de Ruyter isn’t an engineer, but he has a good track record and anybody can see that you can’t pull the wool over his eyes. He isn’t an idiot. He knows exactly what to do to fix this tragedy that’s unfolding before our very eyes. But the very government that appointed him, for some reason, didn’t want to help him make it work. And when the minister of Minerals and Energy insinuates that he’s a saboteur or terrorist trying to overthrow the government (shame on you Old Kind Coal), and a minister of Public Enterprises doesn’t pipe up and defend the very man he’s supposed to be supporting, and the president does f-all to grow a spine, then how can one assume no political interference. He needed political interference. But it had to be positive interference that helps him. Not interference that cuts off his legs and makes him feel like a spare wheel. Tech savvy isn’t what it’ll take. It needs an unshackled Andre de Ruyter.

      • Don Haynes-Smart says:

        Of course government didn’t want de Ruyter to succeed, that eould have cut off the ANC from one of its most profitable funding streams. When Eskom wanted to import diesel directly the answer was ‘No’. The old (crooked) contracts will remain. If Eskom suddenly improves then Gweede’s wife’s Karpower contracts will suddenly become unnecessary.

  • Rod Bulman says:

    You Go Gwede, Go!

  • Eskom’s number one problem, and by FAR the biggest, is that they have zero technical expertise left do do the nitty gritty technical work of fixing and maintaining their generating assets. Renewables won’t fix this. Money won’t fix it either. Only competent and ethical techical staff can fix it.

  • Colin Beard says:

    Here’s my proposed solution.
    Get rid of Mantashe ASAP and give his job to Andre de Ruyter.

  • Andre Cruywagen says:

    The solution in South-Africa is a technical one but with strong political dogma. As long as we have political influences and influencers in the game it will never a technical sound solution. We need to get to the point where we, as the Freedom Charter prescribed, put the people first and take decisions that will be to the benefit of the people and the country and not the party. Time has run out, not only Mantashe is in a tumble drier, but Cabinet is also.

  • Jeff Bolus says:

    Amidst rolling blackouts, ANC policy is once again in the dark. From HIV/Aids denialism to Alternative Energy denialism ….. what’s new ? Gwede Mantashe is the new Dr Beetroot.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Peter Bruce has done it again! This is what he writes. “While this may win some headlines, the prospects of success are small.” Well Peter, the President, Ramaphosa, has asked Eskom not to increase tariffs. Looks like the DA got it right again, as usual. The DA are not the only crowd to go to court over this ANC catastrophe. It is just the only one that Peter mentioned.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      This Comment has a radical error in it!! I mentioned Peter Bruce when it should have been Stephen Grootes! I apologize!! In reparation for this error I will give both Peter Bruce and Stephen Grootes a couple of my home-brew beers when they are in Cape Town.

  • Tom Wixley says:

    I agree with your use of “rolling blackouts” instead of the mealy-mouthed “load-shedding”

  • virginia crawford says:

    Let’s not forget that mining is in trouble too thanks to the incompetence and chaos in managing licencing etc.

  • Marius Laker says:

    Before i retired i worked for 32 years at a semi state-owned company. We were profitable and efficient until post 1994, when managment were systematically replaced, wherafter things went downhill at a great rate of knots. Since then a permanent 5 year turn-around cycle occured; every time with a new CEO. This is unfortunately the reality for Eskom and all the other SOE’s… no matter what Ramasoft promises, it won’t get better because for political reasons they refuse to involve those people and company’s who have proven that they know how to do it properly.

  • John Gosling says:

    The solution to Eskom’s problems is the fact that maintenance on the aged units was never done. De Ruyter has stated that he warned from the day he was appointed that maintenance must be a priority. He was met with resistance, undermined, unsupported by gov, and ultimately told he was treasonous for not fixing Eskom. He quit. No replacement will be able to do any better. He pointed out that each power station takes approx 6 months to do maintenance during which time they are out of action. There are at least 10 such units that require this level of maintenance. Simply not possible to fix! The ANC has undermined all attempts due to vested interests of GM, his wife and others in maintaining the status quo. Install your solar power and get off the grid NOW! The economy: Shot to smithereens!

    • Jenny Brebner says:

      Reading through all these opinions which I totally agree with, I cannot comprehend the ignorance of even contemplating Mantashe as an asset in any department of the government. There are so many old, incompetent people in government, who should have been put out to pasture years ago. How can we ever expect progress of any sorts with the calibar of people who are ‘in charge’?

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    Mantashe is looking for a big brown bag of loot after he manipulates the Karpowership solution when the country returns to being part of the Dark Continent. With no power, any power will be welcome, and that power will be shipped in!
    Irrespective of no asset value after 20yrs, since when did the ANC ever consider a return on investment?
    Mantashe will manipulate the situation to suit his agenda.
    Remember Gwede, there were three fingers pointing at you, when you pointed at anyone else!

  • Dou Pienaar says:

    Do not get distracted and fooled, the only dynamic for the ANC is to see how they can implement the KARPOWER ships transaction so that they can steal as much as possible.

  • mike muller says:

    It’s not true that the real issue is whether we will continue coal dependence or move quickly to renewables.

    The energy system is a supertanker – it simply cannot be turned around that quickly. That’s why China – which is building far more renewables than any other country – is still modernising it’s coal power fleet; probably hitting peak coal before 2030 before tapering off to zero in 2050-60 as they told the world they would ten years ago.

    In SA, this should not be a fight between coal and renewables; it is rather about planning for the next two or three decades during which time there will be plenty of opportunity for participants in both sectors.

  • Louis Nel says:

    If, and I say if the ANC does not win the election in 2024, I feel very sorry for the party taking over. It will take more than a lifetime to fix the damage the ANC has caused this country. How will one change the culture of lawlessness, corruption and self entitlement, always using racism and the previous regime as scapegoats.

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.

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